El Shafee Elsheikh, a British ISIS fighter and member of the execution cell dubbed “the ISIS Beatles” because of their British accents, was sentenced to life in prison Friday for his role in the hostage-taking and deaths of four Americans and several others.
Elsheikh was handed down eight concurrent life sentences in a Virginia courtroom on the eighth anniversary of the brutal beheading of one of his victims: American journalist James Foley.
Elsheikh and another member of the cell, Alexanda Kotey, were charged in October 2020 on eight counts for their involvement in the hostage-taking and murders of Foley, fellow American journalist Steven Sotloff, American aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller, as well as British and Japanese nationals. Elsheikh was convicted in April.
Speaking to the press following the sentencing, Diane Foley, James Foley’s mother, said she was grateful for the sentence but called it “a hollow victory.”
“Our country has lost four of its very best citizens. We families lost our loved ones forever,” she said.
‘As grave, as sadistic, and as utterly reprehensible as it gets’
During Elsheikh’s two-week trial, former hostages testified to the brutal conditions, beatings, starvation and torture they were subjected to by the ISIS members. A Department of Justice press released noted that, “according to evidence presented during trial, in addition to physically and psychologically abusing the hostages, Elsheikh and his co-conspirators participated in forcibly exposing the hostages to the murder of other hostages held by ISIS.”
“From August 2014 through October 2014, ISIS released videos depicting the beheadings of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and British citizens David Haines and Alan Henning,” the release said. “In November 2014, ISIS released a video depicting the decapitated head of Peter Kassig.”
“In January 2015, ISIS released videos depicting the decapitated body of Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa and the beheading of Japanese citizen Kenji Goto. On or about February 7, 2015, Kayla Mueller’s family received an email from ISIS confirming Mueller’s death in Syria,” it said.
During sentencing Friday, the US government argued for the eight consecutive life sentences, noting that the crimes the ISIS members committed “are as grave, as sadistic, and as utterly reprehensible as it gets.”
“As the evidence at trial demonstrated, Elsheikh, Emwazi, and Kotey helped lead a network of at least nine detention facilities in which 26 civilian hostages from 12 countries were held captive in Syria,” First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh said, according to a release from the Department of Justice.
“These vicious acts of terrorism against the world spread carnage and fear, and caused deep despair. And as we sadly know, these devastating crimes resulted in the deaths of at least eight American, British, and Japanese citizens, among others, including gruesome beheadings that were publicized on a global scale and perversely touted by ISIS propaganda,” Parekh said.
“Rather than becoming martyrs to their monstrous cause, Elsheikh and Kotey have been fairly and impartially convicted, in an open courtroom, of their barbaric crimes,” he added.
Elsheikh and Kotey, whose British citizenships were revoked because of their membership of ISIS, were captured together by the Syrian Democratic Forces as they tried to flee to Turkey in January 2018. Then-Attorney General William Barr negotiated with Britain to extradite the pair to the US for prosecution by taking the death penalty off the table as a consideration for sentencing.
Kotey pleaded guilty in September and was given eight concurrent life sentences earlier this year. The third member of the cell, Mohamed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John,” was killed in a drone strike in 2015.
‘The punishment fits the crime’
FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said in a statement that Elsheikh’s sentencing “demonstrates that those who kill or injure our citizens cannot hide forever.”
Carl Mueller, Kayla Mueller’s father, told the press following the sentencing that he thought “the punishment fits the crime in this case.”
“He will spend the rest of his days in a cell and and have the time to consider what he’s done,” Mueller said. “And it’s a deterrent to others as well, not to do this kind of thing.”
Carl Mueller said the family was still working to find out what exactly happened to his daughter, who ISIS claimed was killed in a Jordanian airstrike on Raqqa.
“We want to bring her home. We want to put her on American soil where she belongs,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional reaction and background.
CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz contributed reporting.